OPINION – There’s a word that some consider so offensive, to utter it is to invite immediate outcry and condemnation.
But as lines of division become more clearly defined in our society, more people are saying this word publicly without a trace of shame. It’s the new “N-word” and the individuals saying it represent an astounding cross-section of American society.
They include state lawmakers, sheriffs, county commissioners, and a host of liberty-minded citizens from every walk of life. The word is “nullification” and it refers to a state’s ability to ignore the enforcement of unjust or unconstitutional federal laws and policies.
Some of the issues over which nullification is being discussed include the imposition of federally controlled health care, attempted infringement of the Second Amendment; control over state lands, and federal protection of prairie dogs at the expense of property owners.
These conflicts are merely a continuation of a larger, long-term battle over the proper balance of powers between the states and the federal government they created. But how are we to know who is correct?
Stephen Pratt used to start his “Know Your Liberty” presentations with an old adage that said, “A people must from time to time, refresh themselves at the wellspring of their origin, lest they perish.” This is very solid advice. To understand how we have arrived at this stalemate, we must comprehend what came before.
Too many federal supremacists, upon hearing mention of nullification, simply chant, “It’s unconstitutional,” as if that magical phrase is all that we need to hear.
But in every question of federal power vs. the states and the people, it is essential that we understand what exactly the Constitution is and to whom it applies. There are three main sources to which we can turn to determine the original intent of its framers.
The first source is the Federalist Papers. This is a series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison over a period of roughly eight months following the Philadelphia convention of 1787. Their essays were first published as letters to the editor in the newspaper for the purpose of persuading the independent states to ratify the newly written Constitution.
The second source is the Anti-Federalist Papers that spoke to the concerns about potential loopholes in the proposed Constitution that might be exploited and lead to tyranny. Many of their concerns were addressed with the addition of the Bill of Rights, but many of the anti-federalists’ worries about federal overreach have proven to be well founded.
The third, and likely the best, source for determining what the Constitution was meant to be is the notes from the speeches and debates of the ratifying conventions of the various states. This is where James Madison believed that the true meaning of the Constitution was to be found since it was there that the people of the states received instruction on what the document meant.
Consider the words of Delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut who stated, “When the government of the united States acts within its proper bounds it will be the interest of the legislatures of the particular States to Support it, but when it leaps over those bounds and interferes with the rights of the State governments they will be powerful enough to check it.”
Federal supremacists bristle when they hear the new “N-word” because nullification effectively limits their ambitions for unchecked, centralized power.
Historian Tom E. Woods offers compelling evidence that opponents of nullification are on shaky ground when they claim that “federal law trumps state law” via the Supremacy Clause. The actual wording of the Supremacy Clause is: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme law of the land.”
Woods explains that, “Citing the Supremacy Clause merely begs the question. A nullifying state maintains that a given law is not “in pursuance thereof” and therefore that the Supremacy Clause does not apply in the first place.”
Since the states preceded the Union and ratified the Constitution by their individual votes, it is clear that they did not cede ultimate authority to the federal government. Furthermore, since sovereignty does not reside in either the federal or state governments, but in the people themselves, it is essential that the people retain the ability to restrain their creation when it acts incorrectly.
Thankfully, there are still leaders at the state and county levels, as well as a growing number of citizens who remember that the consent of the governed still counts for something.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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